Kino No Tabi 1: Book One of the Beautiful World
by Keiichi Shigusawa
Review by Christine Fisher
TokyoPop Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 1598164554
Date: 30 October, 2006 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Kino no Tabi, or Kino's journey, is the first volume of eight in this series of manga (Japanese comics). This Tokyopop release is structured more like a young adult book than a typical manga. Each chapter begins with a title page and an illustration by Kuroboshi.
Kino, a young girl, rides her talking motorcycle Hermes through a pastoral countryside, staying three nights in each of the isolated towns and cities that she encounters. The customs, social structures, and levels of technology vary fantastically from city to city.
The first story takes place in her home village the week before her twelfth birthday and explains why she is traveling the world alone. It also introduces Sigsawa's theme.
While the publisher's blurb on the back claims that the series is "a critique on the inherent beauty of imperfection", that was not the first volume's strongest theme. At a deeper and more interesting level, Sigsawa takes different sociological patterns and cultural values to extremes and examines, sometimes very poignantly, how they influence the residents' lives. This manga, more than most of the series featuring mech-suits or space fleets, is true science fiction. A new social "What if?' is addressed in every chapter.
Andrew Cunnigham's translation is invisibly good and does not distract from the story's flow. Likewise, there is no perceivable cultural gap for readers who are not familiar with manga, anime, or Japanese culture. The reading level is appropriate for middle-school or young adult readers, but the content is surprisingly meaty and sophisticated.
The mood is reminiscent of some retold fairy tales with a little adventure on the side. Like the Brothers Grimm, Sigsawa uses very simple writing and entertaining stories to convey layered, mature material. He includes philosophic questions, sociological principles, and themes of war and violence. Some chapters are so intellectually intriguing or emotionally intense that the reader may want to pause for mental processing before continuing. In fact, this book's more serious treatment makes a very good counterexample to dissociated, glamorized violence for desensitized or younger readers.
Kino No Tabi: Book One Of The Beautiful World is a fascinating, compelling read for all ages. This manga is far more complex and satisfying than the initial episodes of the anime, which has a more episodic, disjointed, almost surreal feel. This is a great read for armchair philosophers and sociologists, people interested in Asian culture, and young readers and adults who enjoy simple stories with robust, mentally-engaging themes.
Kino no Tabi is what is known as a "light novel" (you can find a definition of this on sites such as wikipedia). Tokyopop calls it "pop fiction".
Manga, however, implies "Japanese comic book" which is not the case. A light novel is more akin to an English storybook or a book for young teens with only a few pictures rather than a comic book with full illustrations and speech bubbles.
Your article incorrectly labels this work as a manga, when there has never been an official manga for the series, only the novels and the anime.